In response to some people being housebound and running out of hay during the Peninsula’s recent massive snowfall, Olympic Peninsula Equine Network founders Diane Royall and Valerie Jackson (with Jeb) put the word out on social media that Royall could help deliver hay with her 4-wheel-drive truck. (Karen Griffiths/for Peninsula Daily News)

In response to some people being housebound and running out of hay during the Peninsula’s recent massive snowfall, Olympic Peninsula Equine Network founders Diane Royall and Valerie Jackson (with Jeb) put the word out on social media that Royall could help deliver hay with her 4-wheel-drive truck. (Karen Griffiths/for Peninsula Daily News)

HORSEPLAY: Preparation is key to surviving snow storms

SO, HOW DID all you horse owners out there weather what many have termed “snowmageddon?”

While not nearly as fearsome as the biblical reference found at Rev. 16:16, to some it sure felt like a crucial conflict as they battled frozen water pipes, hoses and water troughs, along with failing electric fences and collapsed roofs.

I found it heartbreaking to see how many barns and shelters collapsed under the weight of snow.

It was definitely a struggle for me to trudge through thigh-deep snow twice a day to feed the horses, all the while carrying buckets of hot water to melt the frozen water in their troughs.

Snow wish list

Snowshoes are high on my wish list to make feeding easier during the next snowstorm.

Four days into the storm, my next door neighbor, Judy Paty, heard my deicer broke and generously gave me one she had sitting unused in her barn. (Thank you.)

The electricity needed to run a tank heater can become a bit dicey should any of the wire become exposed to water, because, as we all know, when water and electricity touch it produces a shock.

OPEN’s problems

Olympic Peninsula Equine Network (OPEN) founders Valerie Jackson and Diane Royall shared some of their snow-related problems encountered throughout the years, including Royall’s fire in a deicer she had connected to power using a few different sized extension cords to reach a tank.

While feeding the horses, she smelled something burning, looked around and then saw her deicer unit was on fire in its tank.

Thankfully she was there to pull the plug before any real damage was done.

For myself I protect the tank heater-extension cord connection by wrapping it with electrical tape and then enclosing it in an extension cord safety cover (available at most hardware stores).

If you use a floating deicer in a rubber tank you need to also use the wire-cage accessory to keep it from hitting the edges as the warmth emitted from the deicer will melt the rubber.

Royall said most of the calls she received were from people wondering why their electric fences weren’t working in the snow.

Because fence failure is the main cause of horses running loose it’s important to know they need constant maintenance when snow falls.

It doesn’t take much to weigh the fence down so much it touches a metal T-post or the ground.

At OPEN, Royall was walking the perimeter fence twice daily to shake the snow off the electrical fence.

She said walking the fence line was, “pretty laborious when the snow was falling.

“It seems like gloves just don’t do their job when you need them to — I got frozen fingers and toes.”

She also used a broom to prevent snow buildup on the curved fabric roof of a ShelterLogic portable pasture shelter.

“There are some portable shelters being sold in our area, such as Logitech, that, unless they have special bracing and are shored up, are not suitable for this kind of snow,” Royall said.

“They need to come with special instructions to help them survive this kind of Pacific Northwest weather.

“Mine at home did better than most but are definitely damaged and Valerie’s personal ones are ruined.”

OPEN stores its hay in a tall, metal portable shelter that has an A-framed roof with reinforced trusses and bracing.

The fortified structure had zero problems with the snow load.

However, Jackson said the roof collapsed on her personal hay storage unit, along with horse shelters in a leased pasture.

“Trying to help others get to their animals and getting them feed [was] a major concern during the storm,” Jackson said.

“That’s why supporting local shelters is critical to local communities.

“As a matter of fact, there is another large horse rescue shelter in Olympia that just closed its doors and we have been asked to take in their last horse they weren’t able to place.

“And there are now two more horses where the owner went to jail and we’ve been asked to take them in, but we just don’t have the resources or space to take them in, especially this time of year.”

During one prolonged snowstorm Jackson said she started seeing, “spots of red and orange in the snow.

“I couldn’t figure out what is was until I saw my horse pee.

“I called out the vet who came and said it was a bladder infection likely caused by not drinking enough water.

“He said if the water’s too cold, like below 40 degrees, the horses don’t want to drink it.”

Thus the importance of not just breaking the ice in the tank to get to water, but the necessity of pouring hot water into it twice a day so the temperature is appealing to the horse.

“We had several calls from people living at the higher elevations who needed help just getting to their own horses, cows, goats and other critters,” said Royall, who used her own four-wheel-drive truck to take hay and other items to people who couldn’t get out.

“We also put shout-outs on social media to find folks with proper equipment for getting through the deep snow that I couldn’t reach.”

Thankfully I heard of no animals being hurt due to collapsed roofs.

I know from now any structures I build will have at least a 6-inch slant (or 6/12 pitch) on its roof to aid in shedding snow.

Tips and tricks

To be better prepared:

• Have stock tank deicers, extension cords and plug protectors ready

• Have ice melt for walkways

• Have clean buckets available to carry hot water to the tanks

• Disconnect and drain hoses so they are ready to use. If already frozen thaw in your shower or bathtub.

• Have extra hay, feed and electrolytes on hand

• Have horse blankets cleaned and ready should you need them.

• Have snow shovel surface waxed so snow won’t stick.

• Yellow lenses on Safety glasses or goggles to protect eyes from snow glare

• Tyre-Grip sprayed on the bottom of boots, and tires, for traction.

During a snowstorm, you should:

• Keep a faucet dripping with water. Sitting water freezes faster. If possible keep a heat lamp on inside your well house.

• Turn on tank heater.

• Unhook and drain water out of the hose each time it’s used. If frozen thaw in shower.

• Walk your electric fence twice daily to clear snow and make sure it’s working.

• Horses need more feed to keep warm. Place additional quality hay in slow feed bags so they always have it available.

Facebook suggestions

When I asked for suggestions on my Facebook page I got the following excellent suggestions:

Lisa Hopper uses tank heaters and soaks food in water to make sure horses are getting enough water. She also caught someone’s horse that was running loose after the electric fence stopped working.

Wendy Peterson suggested keeping the snow knocked off the thicker web-style fence so it doesn’t sag to the ground. To remove snow-packed hooves from horses wearing metal shoes lightly tap the metal on the outside with a hammer and it will “come right out.” The snow pack can build up causing unsteady ankles and possible injuries. Increase feeding and make sure your horse has clean, fresh water available at all times to help prevent colic.

She also suggested using a toboggan or sled to drag hay and/or water buckets out to where you need them.

Jan Hagmann suggested increase feed should be a quality grass or Timothy hay to aid the guts in easier digestion. Don’t increase grain or alfalfa. She also adds hot water to the water buckets morning and night. She doesn’t break the ice because the hot water tends to slow the thaw and doesn’t refreeze during the day. If a horse’s water intake decreases she adds a scoop of electrolytes in concentrated feed mixed with water.

“Water intake is the most vital thing to keep a close eye on,” Hagmann said.

Kimberly Lansing uses tank heaters to keep the water at a near constant temperature. She stored her hay on pallets and placed tarps over the top. (I found double tarping works best. Placing something like PVC pipe in the middle for air flow works best to prevent moisture build up causing moldy hay.)

She discovered two of her three shelter openings were facing the direction the storm came so the snow blew right in. Her auto dog feeder faced the east and also filled with snow.

“We discovered all sorts of things we needed to do differently, that we hadn’t thought of before,” She used a broken shavings fork as a walking stick for balance and made sure to keep her phone with her in case she fell.

She also has two versions of what she calls, “redneck sheds,” she built using cattle panels for the sides and tarp tops.

One she used a type of A-frame roof that she did some snow removal on. Her other has a round top that flattened out a little under the heavy snow, but sprang back after she knocked the snow off.

Dave Seibel spoke from experience when he suggested keeping snow from building up on roofs, especially if they are flat or have little slope. He had two run-in shelters collapse so he’ll be rebuilding this spring.

Kristin Phillips said she’s been feeding three to four times daily to keep the weight up and to keep horses from chewing on fence posts out of boredom. She also added cooking oil to their grain/mineral ration.

Darcy Riggan doesn’t own a horse, but said her coworker was having a tough time after her water pipes froze and hay barn collapsed.

I know we all sympathize with her coworker.

I also have to thank Riggan’s dad, Mitch Grice, and her father-in-law, Randy Riggan, for digging my car out of the snow and making my driveway passable.

Also, thanks to Doug Wessel for his daily calls to see how I was doing and if I needed anything.

Jennifer Reandeau’s manure fork doubled as a snow shovel.

Cate Bendock suggested having frost-free hydrants near the barn. If you have an electrical supply close by they make heated hoses.

Diana Smalling said she keeps extra buckets of water in the barn in case her hose or faucets freeze.

Also, hay in slow-feed hay nets gives the horses something to do all day. She has tried to give her horses daily turnouts in the arena to “get their guts moving.” She’s learned the hard way the need to monitor how much snow is on the roofs and to remove some if necessary.

“Snow is very heavy and can collapse buildings,” she said.

Christine Elam said she doesn’t have horses but did use snowshoes to get around outside to take her dogs for walks.

Natira Hardesty said not to forget about ourselves.

“Having warm, functional gear is important, too,” she said.

Thanks for those tips everyone and keep them coming.

Hopefully, next time we’ll be better prepared.


Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

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